Day Eleven, Findaworld 2015 Iraq Trip
My translator S and I wake up in a new place—the church center for the Syriac Church. I can smell meat frying in the other room, and I’m not even that bothered by the state of my luggage: My ordered system of clothes packets is a discombobulated, a mess due to yesterday’s sudden and unplanned check-out—and no clean undies. I’m glad I washed my black clergy shirt in the hotel shower the night before—I’ll wear it again today. Wearing the clergy collar—I resisted wearing it in the past; to me, it always felt like pretense, façade—but I’m thinking about the response of people in the camps over the past two days– the people seem to NEED it—be actually blessed by having an ABOUNA visit their home—they long for my kisses. The presence of a pastor/priest means, to them, the presence of God. If it helps people connect with God, then I need to wear the shirt—even if I’m uncomfortable with it.
Before breakfast I stroll the grounds outside the church center with one of the staff . Pointing to the mountains, I say “What a way to wake up.” He says “Still, my heart is not safe” I say “Leish?” (Why). “Da3sh” (I.S.I.S.) he replies. :”No safety, no jobs. If I had money I would leave the country like the rest of my people.”
After breakfast, one of the young men at the center offers to take S and I to Sarseng. We are technically in the village next door. It’s a bit of a walk, but I go a bit crazy with my camera, stopping every ten feet to snap another picture. I just find these images to be so beautiful. There’s mountains all around, but it’s the houses that catch my eye the most—the everyday beauty.
We pass some little kids speaking Arabic. S tells me they are having a discussion about Da3sh/I.S.I.S. Kids that young shouldn’t have to be having those talks.
We have walked a good mile, and we are passing a house with people outside. Our guide asks if we are thirsty and says something to one of the women. She disappears and quickly returns with water and refreshments. Middle East Hospitality.
We walk a bit further and encounter a group of older men in traditional Kurdish dress. We stop to talk, and they recognize that I am an American. “We thought America was doing to get rid of Da3sh” one of them says. Another replies “America can do it, no problem. If they want to.”
It’s good to be back in the village of Sarseng. Elmarie, Amgad, Pastor H and I spent a day here last May. Our guide takes us to the abandoned school building that we visited before. At the time, Syriac Christians were using it as temporary housing. They have all moved to better accommodations.
Now, the old school is occupied by Yizidis.
Of all the groups persecuted by Da3sh/I.S.I.S., Yizidis have perhaps gotten it the hardest. Yizidis are HATED by groups like I.S.I.S. Because their religion is “syncretistic” (a blend of different religious beliefs/practices), fundamentalists call them “impure” and “demon worshippers.” We know of a Yizidi family of whom sixty members were captured by I.S.I.S. The boys/young men were shot on sight, and the girls/young women were sold as sex slaves. A colleague of mine has told me about sitting with an expectant Yizidi mother who was forced to watch her six-year-old daughter be decapitated.
We walk along the school grounds and, as usual, don’t get far before a family invites us in for tea.
Yizidis tend to be a private people, but at the same time I have always found them to be welcoming and gracious to visitors. This family is no different. They invite us into their living space—sparse and immaculate—and we sit on cushions. They bring out tea and grapes for us.
The family shares openly with us:
“Why? Da3sh took daughters put grenades inside children.”
“America could stop Da3sh in 2 days.”
“Nobody says anything about what happened in the Shengal mountains—70 children died of dehydration, and old people died too.”
We are struggling here; children can’t go to school because of the distance and money, and even if they do, the teaching is not good.”
We eventually leave our hosts and continue our walk along the school grounds. Again we are quickly stopped, this time by two men on a dark concrete stairwell. They invite us to tea.
The moment I accept, one of them shouts out, “The Yizidi Inn is open!”I like this guy immediately. The two men come down the stairs and usher us through a small, dark opening at the bottom of the stairwell. We have to duck, then go through a series of short tunnels before climbing the stairs to their home on the second floor of old classrooms.
We are served tea and biscuits and introduced to family members. Again, our hosts are very open with us:
“There are few Yizidis in Iraq now… The ones that came here arrived with only the clothes on their backs.”
“We wish Mosul would come under protection from the U.S… immigration won’t help…we want PROTECTION from persecution, not immigration..90% of people here want protection as opposed to a visa to a new country.”
–“In our history something like this has happened to the Yizidis every 100 years”.
“If nobody helps, we will have to leave and there will be no Yizidi people in Iraq and we will be extinguished.”
“Yes, we are a historical people and we just want to live in PEACE.”
“We don’t want promises from America—we just want to show the truth.”
“We want independence. Living with other people will corrupt our way of life.”
“Safety is our most important need. Before 2003 there was PEACE between Yizidi and Muslim and Christian. All that changed after 2003.
In Bashika, before 2003, Yizidi people went around without guns, without fear.”
“None of us knows the future, what will happen to us.”
“We just want a simple life but people won’t let us.”
Our host invites us to stay for lunch. He says that since they did not know we were coming, we will eat what they had already prepared to eat.”
The wife of our host pours water for us to wash with from a tank. There is no clean running water here, so it must be bought from the shop.
We are taken into another room for lunch: Two large platters of Dorma are placed on the floor in front of us. Dorma is basically different kinds of squash stuffed with rice and meat—it’s a “comfort food” and every region around here has there own variation. I’ve had Dorma before, and to be honest, could take it or leave it—my mind is now changed. Yizidi Dorma has made me a fan.
“It is our faith to serve our guest—to love you with food,” my host says.
I’ve had some amazing feasts in the Middle East, but this one will be hard to forget: sitting on the floor of a dark abandoned classroom, talking and stuffing ourselves with Dorma and fresh bread and fruit.
As our feast comes to a close, I take a bit of a risk and pull about thirty dollars from my wallet. I have learned that offering money to a host is extremely rude. Sometimes Westerners feel compelled to give money anyway, out of one’s own discomfort, which is really sort of selfish. But that’s not what I’m feeling.
I explain to my interpreter what I want to say:
“This has been one of the finest feasts I have had, and I am so honored by your hospitality. We are friends now. It is my practice to bring a gift when coming to a friend’s home, but this visit was a lovely surprise. I would instead like to make a gift of this money, as an expression of how much this time has meant to me. If this gift is acceptable, I would like to give it to you.”
My translator had an exchange with my host, then said “He says your gift is acceptable.”
I am looking forward to my next visit to the Yizidi Inn.